Unbelievable as it may seem today, Manchester United scored a goal at Anfield and the home fans cheered and sang.

The date was Friday 20th August 1971.  The two teams playing that day were Manchester United and Arsenal.  The FA had ordered United to play their first two home matches of the 1971-72 season at neutral venues after hooligans threw knives into the away section at a match at the end of the previous season.


During those days United were continually dogged by a hooligan element resulting in bans and fines.  In 1977 they were ordered to play a home match at Plymouth Argyle’s ground, Home Park, in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup.  United fans had gone on the rampage in France in the first leg and initially the club was thrown out of the competition, but then reinstated on appeal.  UEFA ordered them to play at least 200km away from Manchester and one of the grounds with the largest capacity was Home Park.

This game in 1971 was also a first for a new manager.  Frank O’Farrell had been chosen from Leicester City to take over from Matt Busby.  Busby was a tough act to follow having been in charge for over 25 years, winning 5 League Championships, 2 FA Cups and 1 European Cup.  Busby had been moved upstairs to General Manager and the experiment of appointing Wilf McGuinness as his successor had been a disappointment.  Busby was in caretaker charge until O’Farrell was given the Manager’s role in June 1971.  This would be O’Farrell’s first ‘home’ game for his new club after United had drawn 2-2 at Derby and then beaten Chelsea, 3-2 at Stamford Bridge.  Arsenal had beaten Chelsea, 3-0, and Huddersfield, 1-0, and were the defending League Champions.  They won the ‘double’ for the first time in their history, the previous season.

Speaking years later, O’Farrell would recall how many other clubs were really supportive towards United.  But he singled out Bill Shankly and Liverpool saying “they were really supportive and it wasn’t a case of hum and haw, they were definite in saying they’d like us to play the Arsenal game at Anfield.  , Peter Robinson, Liverpool’s chief executive, had approached the club and offered the use of Anfield for one of the matches.  “We offered”, said Robinson, “and they said they would cheerfully have done the same for us had the roles been reversed.  United were going to have a bigger following than Arsenal so it was decided to give them the Kop”.

To attempt to deter further crowd trouble, as well as avoid affecting Everton’s gate that weekend, the game was scheduled for a Friday night but was attended by fewer than 28,000.  There were disturbances at the start when fans invaded the pitch as some of the players were warming up, but that soon subsided.

Arsenal took an early lead when Frank McLintock opened the scoring after just 4 minutes, and his goal still separated the two sides at half-time.  But in the second half United’s talisman, George Best started to make an impact.  He was involved in United’s equaliser when Alan Gowling chipped Bob Wilson in the Arsenal goal.  That was the moment the United fans on the Kop celebrated a goal from their side.  It was also the first goal Arsenal had conceded in the League for 4 games

George Armstrong then went close for the visitors when United’s keeper, Alex Stepney tipped his shot onto the bar.  Bobby Charlton then curled a free-kick into the left-hand corner of the net to give United the lead.  Brian Kidd, now at Manchester City, finished things off with a goal late in the game to give United a 3-1 win.

Arsenal, who had lost just once in their previous 15 league matches stretching back to the end of February, now went on a 3-game losing streak starting with this game.

Liverpool received 15% of the gate receipts and United were instructed to pay Arsenal compensation as the gate was below the 48,000 who had attended the previous fixture at Old Trafford.  Even Another part of the negotiations to get the game arranged, Everton were promised compensation if their gate was below 46,000 for their match against Sheffield United, the next day.

Apparently, not all the locals were best pleased with United turning up at Anfield as if it were their ground as a report in The Guardian the next day stated “about 100 fans were ejected from Anfield.  Windows of some houses were smashed and 600 skinheads were said to have been kept in check by police after throwing bricks at the United supporters as they were frogmarched back to Lime Street station and onto trains back to Manchester”.

Back then the rivalry between Liverpool and United was not as intense as it is now, but it still surprises many when they realise what happened.

For the record, United’s other ‘home’ game was played at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground where United again won 3-1, this time against West Brom.  They also won their first game at Old Trafford that season too, when they beat Ipswich 1-0.  They won their first 6 home games that season to lead the table at Christmas, but tailed off badly in the second half to finish 8th as Brian Clough masterminded Derby County’s first League Championship.

MATCH FACTS

MAN UTD 3 (Gowling, Charlton, Kidd)
ARSENAL 1 (McLintock)

MAN UTD: Stepney; O’Neill, James, Sadler, Dunne; Morgan, Charlton, Gowling; Kidd, Law, Best

ARSENAL: Wilson; Rice, Simpson, McNab, McLintock; Armstrong, Storey, Graham, Kelly; Radford, Kennedy

Attendance: 27,649